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  • Cited by 2
  • Print publication year: 2001
  • Online publication date: May 2006

4 - Shakespeare and the craft of language

Summary

When Richard II banishes the nobleman Thomas Mowbray for life, it is not the loss of family, friends, property, or even country that Mowbray laments. It is the loss of language, or rather of his language, the language into which he was born: 'The language I have learnt these forty years, my native English, now I must forgo' (Richard II 1.3.153-4). Mowbray's anticipation of the loss - 'so deep a maim' (150) - turns banishment into as severe a penalty as execution: 'What is thy sentence then but speechless death, / Which robs my tongue from breathing native breath?' (166-7). To deprive a man of his language is to deprive him of life itself, for speaking is as necessary to life as breathing. As we learn later when his banishment is repealed, Mowbray does not long survive this death sentence. After having lived out his days in a venture requiring no English, crusading in the Holy Land against 'black pagans, Turks, and Saracens' (4.1.86), he retires to Venice and dies.